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In their bid to solidify a catching position that has been less than ideal for the last decade-plus, the Mets are banking on James McCann.
The veteran catcher agreed to terms Saturday on a four-year deal worth about $40 million, according to industry sources, as the Mets’ second free-agent addition and biggest to date under new owner Steve Cohen and team president Sandy Alderson. The deal will become official once McCann passes a physical.
Earlier this offseason, the Mets signed reliever Trevor May to a two-year deal worth $15.5 million. The Mets remain in the hunt for bigger acquisitions, including top free-agent outfielder George Springer and starting pitcher Trevor Bauer.
The 30-year-old McCann was non-tendered by the Tigers after the 2018 season but had a career resurgence with the White Sox over the past two seasons. In 31 games last season — he shared time behind the plate with Yasmani Grandal — McCann slashed .289/.360/.536 with seven homers in 111 plate appearances.
He also improved his pitch framing under the tutelage of White Sox catching instructor Jerry Narron. Over the past two seasons, McCann was plus-nine in defensive runs saved, according to fangraphs. In his previous two seasons he was minus-nine. McCann also has a strong throwing arm and nailed 21-of-45 runners (46.6 percent) attempting to steal against him the past two seasons.
The Mets chose McCann as an alternative to J.T. Realmuto — the top free-agent catcher on the market, who would have cost significantly more. McCann will give the Mets flexibility to pursue other needs.
McCann checked the boxes on several fronts for the Mets, who received less than satisfactory results from primary catcher Wilson Ramos over the past two seasons.
“A lot of power, if you make a mistake,” an official from a team who competed against McCann in the AL Central said. “The contact is probably not ideal, but he’s dangerous at the plate, and it looked like, when I was watching from across the field, that he’s a pretty good leader. He’s pretty impressive.”
The Mets have struggled to find a steady catcher since Mike Piazza departed the organization following the 2005 season. In recent seasons the biggest disappointment was Travis d’Arnaud, who dealt with various injuries that kept him sidelined for much of his Mets tenure. Following his release from the organization in 2019, he emerged as a standout catcher for the Rays and Braves.
Ideally, McCann would serve as a bridge to 19-year-old Francisco Alvarez, who is regarded among the organization’s top prospects. The Mets have Tomas Nido returning as a backup catcher after declining the 2021 options for Ramos and Robinson Chirinos.
McCann, a native of Southern California, was linked in recent days to the Angels. His landing with the Mets could depress the market for Realmuto, an All-Star who spent the past two seasons with the Phillies. Though the Phillies’ new president of baseball operations, Dave Dombrowski, has indicated he would like to sign Realmuto, the club is among those looking to slash payroll after taking a beating financially in the pandemic shortened season.
The Mets are regarded within the industry as the favorites to sign Springer, who would provide the club with a defensive presence in center field and right-handed bat. Bauer, who won the NL Cy Young award, could also be in play. If the Mets were to miss on Bauer, focus would shift to next-level options such as Jake Odorizzi and Masahiro Tanaka.
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